Increase in bears brings Juneau committee out of hibernation

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A growing number of bear reports has prompted Mayor Sally Smith to bring back an urban bear committee to grapple with the problem.

Police and officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been fielding an increased number of calls about bears this summer, said Neil Barten, a wildlife biologist with fish and game.

More sows with cubs and 3- and 4-year-old bears seem to be in the area, he said. Four bears have been relocated this summer and two have been killed.

The city has taken steps to curb the number of human encounters with bears in this city, which is filled with tourists during summer months. A new garbage ordinance and bear-proof city trash containers are among those steps.

Smith disbanded the committee in early July when the assembly approved final changes to the new garbage ordinance requiring non-bear-proof garbage containers be kept inside until 4 a.m. on the morning of garbage pickup.

Bear committee chairman Mark Farmer planned to run for a seat on the Juneau Assembly to continue to press the bear issue, but indicated he might not if the bear committee was called back.

Farmer applauded the steps taken to reduce encounters with bears and said a policy directing police to avoid killing bears is also a step in the right direction. But a public affairs campaign, more metal Dumpster lids and cooperation between local agencies will help, he said.

''We're 40 percent of the way there. We're just cresting the hump,'' Farmer said.

Smith said she called the panel back after discussions with committee members and after personal experiences with the bear problem. In one instance, bears got into her secured trash bin. She also helped with a cleanup project behind South Franklin Street where bears have been spotted getting into trash.

A group called the Urban Bear Patrol, which has highlighted bear activity and trash violations, also caught her attention, she said.

At the meeting Tuesday, bear patrol member and photographer Pat Costello showed a video of tourists downtown getting close to a bear last week before being directed to stand back by a police officer.

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